Mowing the lawn is great exercise, right?
Good for the mind.
Good for the body.
Ahh…nature. Grass clippings.
Not only do I not enjoy mowing my lawn (even after I experimented with one of those non-motorized, push-with-your-muscles, work-up-a-sweat style lawnmowers), but I simply haven't found it to be the most productive use of my valuable time.
So, every Thursday, a guy shows up at my front door with a lawnmower and a weedeater and takes care of my lawn for me. I'll then use that free time to write, to workout, to play with my kids or to do anything else that I actually enjoy.
Why the heck am I telling you all this?
Well, I've just released the fully updated, nineteen-plus hour audiobook version of my New York Times Bestseller “Beyond Training”. Chapter 20 is titled “Why I Don't Mow My Lawn (And Ten Other Time-Saving and Productivity Tips)”, and, in celebration of the brand new audio release, I'm giving you the written version below.
Whether you’re a soccer mom, a blogger, a triathlete, a busy CEO, or a student, these ten time-saving and productivity tips are going to instantly free up your most precious commodity….your time. Without further ado, here they are: the strategies I personally use every day, including not mowing my own lawn.
1. Use Buckets
I used to keep a checklist. One really long, annoying list, filled with items like:
-Write article about rehabilitating shoulder
-Arrange and schedule podcast interview
-Watch iMovie tutorial online
I thought I was being clever and efficient by keeping one long tally of everything I needed to get done and checking it off as I went along. After all, if you want to get things done, you need to write them down, right? Each night, I’d a crumple into an exhausted heap, having checked off as many items as possible. Then I’d wake up the next day to begin checking off items again.
The checklist is a cruel system—a never-ending loop with no start and no end.
I have a much smarter, cleaner system now—I use “buckets.” I simply assign days to specific tasks, and I do only those tasks on those specific days. For example:
-I do phone consults only on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
-I shoot videos only on Tuesdays.
-I record audio only on Wednesdays.
-I write articles only on Fridays.
You get the idea. So if I get inspiration for, say, a video about how to make a low-carb kale smoothie, I don’t add that task to a big list and get around to it when I get to that part of the list. Nor do I drop everything and go make the video. I simply open up my Tuesday Evernote document, write down “shoot low-carb kale smoothie video,” and move on—forgetting about the smoothie video until Tuesday and moving that task off my plate into the Tuesday bucket.
So if I get through Tuesday’s bucket at 6 p.m., great. The rest of the day is free to use as I please; I don’t have to move on to the next item on an endless list. And yes, while major projects and recurring tasks generally are all assigned to specific days, there are some things that I do every day, such as working out for sixty minutes, writing fiction for fifteen minutes, or playing guitar for twenty minutes. But these are activities I consider to be self-improvement, and right up there with eating food or drinking water.
Let’s just say that the bucket system will greatly simplify your life. More on Evernote later.
2. Eliminate Television
That’s right. I’m bringing out the big guns. Painful, I know.
Here’s the deal: I haven’t watched commercial television in more than a decade. (I also don’t read the newspaper or listen to the news, but eliminating those is optional.)
Allow me to clarify: I do own a TV. I watch about one movie a month. But I have no television reception. Here’s why: Television pummels you with excessive information and distraction, even if your intention is to watch only one particular program.
I’d rather grab information when I need it. If there’s a program I want to watch, I get it from Hulu or use the free open-source video player app Miro and move on, with minimal commercial breaks. The few times I’ve found myself getting sucked into Hulu too frequently (or any other website full of shiny distractions), I prevent myself from accessing it by using tools like LeechBlock for Firefox and StayFocusd for Chrome.
3. Eat Simply
You don’t need to feel guilty about a lack of variety in your meals. You can definitely rotate through the forty easy meals in chapter 11, and between the Internet and books, you can go crazy with new recipes forever, but I purposely keep my food choices to a minimum.
My eating “system” is very simple: 99 percent of the time, I eat the same thing for breakfast (my big fat green smoothie), for lunch (sardine salad), and for an afternoon snack (coconut milk with protein powder)—which saves a lot of brain time pondering what to eat and saves a lot of prep time, because the more you do something, the faster you’re able to do it. For dinner, we eat out, or I try a new recipe and include my children so it’s a fun learning project, or Jessa cooks.
By following this approach, you’ll know exactly how much of your staple meals you need to eat to keep you sated and productive and avoid getting stuck in a nutritional no man’s land.
Just try it for a week: smoothie for breakfast, salad for lunch, quick snack in the afternoon, and something new for dinner.
As you know, I don’t mow my own lawn.
I also don’t go to the bank. Or the post office. And I rarely to the grocery store, unless I’m cycling or running there.
I also spend barely any time handling personal finances, dealing with computer malfunctions, ordering items from Amazon, or making phone calls I don’t want to make.
See, my personal destiny in life is to shatter the conventional wisdom of what the accepted capabilities of our body and mind are—and to teach as many people as possible how to discover the delicate balance between achieving amazing feats of physical performance and staying healthy, living long, and looking good. And the simple fact is that I can’t achieve that when I’m standing in line at the post office to buy stamps or putting lawn clippings in a garbage bag. I can do it when I’m creating content, writing, shooting videos, recording audios or talking on the phone or Skype with clients.
So I outsource. Here are some of the key online resources you can use to do it too:
–Craigslist: This is where I find people to do my housecleaning, local shopping, banking, Amazon ordering, post office runs, and, of course, mowing the lawn.
–Fancy Hands: This is where you can hire a virtual assistant to plan personal travel—flights, hotels, airport shuttles, etc.—using the miles from various airline rewards programs that I keep at AwardWallet.com. Of course, you could have that virtual assistant perform a huge variety of other tasks, too. A similar service, and the creation of your own virtual assistant “team” is offered by my friend Ari Meisel at GetLeverage.com.
–Elance (now converting to the new name “Upwork”): For finding a freelancer to fix a website, design a graphic, create spreadsheets, or do anything tech related that I don’t want to learn how to do myself.
–TaskRabbit: Where college students, recent retirees, stay-at-home moms, and young professionals seeking side gigs—literally the people in your neighborhood—are dying to get your grocery shopping and other time-consuming to-dos done for you. (Yes, you can do background checks.)
–GoDaddy: Personal finances used to be a huge drag and time-suck for me, so up until I recently decided my finances were so complex that I needed to hire a personal accountant to track everything in Quickbooks, I used GoDaddy Bookkeeping. It pulls all my small-business and personal finances into one place and takes care of all my bookkeeping so I can skip spreadsheets, data entry, and having piles of paper everywhere. Any purchase I make from a credit card or bank account goes straight into Outright, all by itself. And you can share your GoDaddy account with an accountant, so your taxes can be easily prepared. Another option is to use a virtual accountant from Bench.co.
–HootSuite: I have five Twitter accounts, more than a dozen Facebook pages, several Google+ pages, YouTube channels, Instagram, Pinterest, a LinkedIn account—you name the social media platform and I’m probably on it. HootSuite is a social media management system that allows me and a virtual assistant to manage most of these accounts with one interface on a single, easy-to-use dashboard.
–FastCustomer: Who likes waiting on hold? With FastCustomer, you log in, say whom you’d like to talk with (for example, your bank, your cell phone carrier, or your insurance company), and as soon as someone is available, a customer service agent from that company calls you. I don’t know how the magic wheels work, and I haven’t asked. All I know is that I rarely sit on hold anymore.
-Fetch and Operator: Fetch and Operator are just two examples of websites that do all your shopping for you. You simply download the free app, tell them what you want, and they go find it for you at the lowest possible price.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea: Delegate the things you don’t want to do or don’t need to do, and you will free up tons of time.
5. Be Smart with E-mail
I receive more than a hundred e-mails an hour. No joke.
Aside from giving virtual assistants access to some of my e-mail addresses to manually filter them, unsubscribe from junk, and forward to me only what requires my personal attention, I follow several other rules with e-mail:
All push notifications for e-mail are turned off on my phone and computer. This means I get e-mail only when I actually check my mail—no annoying rings or dings telling me that I have a life-altering offer from Groupon.
I only check e-mail three times per day: 9am, noon and 7pm. If people have to send me something important enough to warrant my personal attention before then, they probably have my cell phone number and can call me. The only exceptions to this rule are two special e-mail folders that I set up for messages from my operations manager, my virtual assistants and my private clients. I check those folders more frequently, while blocking e-mail from other sources.
I have more than thirty folders in Gmail, which is what I use for managing e-mail. Every message that comes in has a “rule” associated with it that sends it to its specific folder, based on either the sender or a keyword in the body of the message. Newsletters go to the Newsletter folder. Shopping deals go into the Deals folder. E-mails from QuickandDirtyTips.com go into the QAndD folder. E-mails from my operations manager Matt go into the Matt folder. So when I finally do get around to checking e-mail, I know which folders to prioritize and can quickly delete and empty others.
I use two plugins: Inbox Pause and Boomerang. Inbox Pause allows me to pause my inbox so I can’t even see if new e-mails have come in until I decide to unpause my Inbox. Boomerang allows me to avoid a hodge-podge of e-mails flying back and forth by writing an e-mail, but then selecting a time for it to be sent later, such as four hours later, the next day, the next week, etc.
I use Text Expander, which saves my fingers and keyboard, by allowing me to associate custom keyboard shortcuts with frequently-used sentences I type. For example, Alt+P will automatically write the sentence “Great question! I can answer in a future podcast if you ask your question via audio by going to Speakpipe.com/BenGreenfield”.
If you use Apple Mail, you can use a program called Mailhub to do most of these tasks. It allows you to file, create new mailboxes, and delete or assign actions to your e-mail effortlessly without interrupting your workflow. If you suffer from e-mail overload, I highly recommend using Mailhub, or Gmail.
6. Eliminate Distractions
When I’m working, I’m like a horse wearing blinders.
In other words…
My phone is in airplane mode or silent mode, or, if I’m expecting an important call, push notifications are turned off so that nothing comes in from Facebook, Twitter, etc.
As mentioned earlier, e-mails are in manual-retrieve mode only.
Any browser windows that enable pop-up notifications, such as Facebook messages, are closed.
I wear headphones. I find music or podcasts distracting while I’m working, but I wear headphones anyway—especially if I’m working in public. It makes people far less likely to interrupt you, and if they do interrupt, you can pretend that you don’t hear them.
Be ruthless in guarding your time and eliminating distractions. Learn how to say no. Do high-intensity work intervals, then take a break when necessary or when you’ve run out of creative energy. Then recharge and return. That’s the way I do it.
7. Avoid Snacking
As I point out in the article “Diet Myth News Flash: Snacking Will Not Boost Your Metabolism,” it is a complete nutritional fallacy that frequent snacking keeps your metabolism elevated or is healthier than eating three square meals a day.
I used to be the guy who arrived at work toting a yogurt, some baby carrots and sugar snap peas, an apple, a bag of nuts, a salad, and a small sandwich. And then I realized that my entire day was focused on food and taking breaks to eat.
Frequently interrupting tasks to visit the vending machine, make yourself a smoothie, snag some trail mix, or make another cup of coffee or tea is distracting, and all those mini-breaks add up to a significant loss in productivity. Plus, your brain runs better on fatty-acid ketones than it does on frequent surges of glucose.
So ditch snacking. My standby is a glass of soda water and some gum to chomp on, and with that strategy, combined with the fat adaption tips you learned in the Nutrition section of this book, I can pound away on a project for five or six hours without eating.
8. Aggregate Content
Have you ever found yourself trapped in the Internet quicksand of reading all the latest news, interesting articles, shocking stories, and anything else that happens to come through Twitter, Facebook, or your e-mail? Before long, an hour of burning your eyeballs with your browser has gone by, and you’ve achieved nothing at all.
So I aggregate content and ignore everything else. An aggregate is a collection of items that form a total quantity. This chapter is a perfect example. I’ve aggregated ten tips for you that work. You could read just this chapter and ignore everything else, and you’d literally double your productivity. Alternatively, you could go and Google “productivity tips,” and you’d certainly find many, many more tips, but you’d also get sucked down a rabbit hole of reading, reading, reading. Make sense?
So think of aggregating like making your own newspaper or magazine with only the things that you want to see, and nothing else. Here’s how I aggregate:
I use Feedly, a news-aggregator application that works on your iPhone, Kindle, and pretty much any web browser and mobile device running iOS or Android. I plug the address of any blog I want to follow into Feedly, and my Feedly window shows up every morning with a list of the latest posts on the blogs I’ve selected—without my needing to visit those blogs or get distracted by going to a site that also aggregates content (such as Alltop) but doesn’t feature content laser-targeted to what I personally want to see each day. Using Feedly, I subscribe to about thirty health, fitness, nutrition, technology, and marketing blogs and ignore everything else. For me, that’s about forty-five minutes of reading each day.
I also use Science Daily, my top recourse for research news, a news feed that goes straight to my e-mail and selectively tracks and reproduces fresh and reliable news and information about health, medicine, and science. And I rely on bloggers who surf the Internet and save me the work by finding cool, cutting-edge articles that appeal to me (kind of like I do on Twitter for my followers, but in more than 140 characters). This includes resources such as the Suppversity blog, Examine.com’s Research Digest, Chris Kresser’s RoundUp, Mark Sisson’s Weekend Link Love, Alan Aragon’s Research Review and SaveYourself.ca’s Microblog.
So aggregate the best, and forget the rest.
9. Start with the Hard Stuff
In the podcast episode “Is It OK to Be Addicted to Exercise?”, Mishka Shubaly mentioned that he starts every day with his run because, for him, that is the most mentally difficult, physically draining, and stressful part of the day.
I’m the exact opposite of Mishka. For me, runs are liberating and stress-relieving, so I do them later in the day when I have slightly less energy and need a pick-me-up. However, what’s hard for me or requires a great deal of my mental or physical willpower and energy includes:
-Taking my morning heart-rate-variability measurements
-Doing yoga and meditation
-Foam rolling and mobility work
-And (depending on the topic and scope) writing and creating content
So I do all these things the very first thing in the morning, before I even think about accomplishing any other tasks that I may find easier, more appealing, or less physically or mentally demanding, such as checking e-mail, doing social media work, cleaning my desk, or even eating breakfast.
If you really want to get scientific with this concept, you can even split tasks into “creative” tasks and “productive” tasks and do those tasks at the time of day that allows you to do them best. I explain exactly how to do this in “Four Steps to Getting More Done During Your Peak Time of Day”.
But for now, just think about what’s hardest for you to do, and get it done first. Then move on to easier, less draining activities. Now, there is one important caveat: if I’m about to sit down to write a monster article, I will quickly review any e-mails in important folders to ensure I don’t have any “fires” to put out. But I’m careful that this quick review doesn’t turn into a Facebook or Twitter rabbit hole.
10. Keep a Clear Mind
Call me stupid or simple, but I have a hard time juggling multiple ideas, concepts, or reminders in my head at one time—such as “charge my bike battery,” “remember to read the book about low-back pain,” “check out the new website that scans your car keys,” and so on.
Instead, I do my best work with a 100 percent clean and clear mind. So I write down everything (and put it in the appropriate bucket, of course), and then it’s out of my mind and I can focus on the task at hand. To achieve this, I use the following tools:
–Evernote: Evernote is a suite of software and services designed for note-taking and archiving. A “note” can be a piece of formatted text, a full web page or a web page excerpt, a photo, a voice memo, or a handwritten “ink” note. Notes can also have file attachments. Notes can be sorted into folders, then tagged, annotated, edited, given comments, searched, and exported as part of a notebook. Since Evernote syncs to my iPhone, Kindle, MacBook, and any computer that I happen to use to access the Internet, it essentially functions as my second brain.
–SendtoReader: I use SendtoReader to deliver articles to my Kindle Fire so I can read them later, at my convenience, rather than dropping everything I’m doing and getting distracted by some brand-new article in the New York Times about fecal transplants for healing gut issues. It works like this: Say I come across an article on Feedly that is a bit too long and complex for me to read at the time. I use SendtoReader to send the article to my Kindle, then check it out later, like when I’m on an airplane or relaxing on the patio in the evening. (Reading articles on my bright laptop screen is typically the last thing I want to be doing at the end of a workday because I associate my laptop with “work,” but my Kindle is for “leisure and learning.”)
–BusyCal: BusyCal is the ultimate calendar app for Mac, packed with powerful time-saving tools in a friendly, easy-to-use package. It supports iCloud, Google Calendar, and other “CalDAV” servers, enabling you to sync and share your calendars with other computers running BusyCal or the built-in calendar app on Macs, iPhones, and iPads. It beats the pants off the basic iCal that comes with the Mac and allows me to quickly schedule meetings and events, then get them out of my mind as fast as possible. If you’re not using a Mac, you should be, but in the meantime, you can find some BusyCal alternatives for Windows at BeyondTrainingBook.com/cals.
–FollowUpThen.com: I used to often send an e-mail for which I needed a timely reply, and then spend the next few days wondering if the e-mail was delivered, if the recipient read it, if I needed to follow-up, etc. After awhile, once you have dozens of such e-mails rattling around in your head, it can become quite distracting. FollowUpThen simply allows me to cc an email address such as [email protected] or [email protected], and then on that specified day or date, FollowUpThen will automatically send a reminder to either me, the recipient, or both, depending on the setting I choose.
And of course, I keep a pen and pad at my bedside. If you’re like me and occasionally wake up at 4:30 a.m. with random thoughts/ideas/brainstorms bouncing around in your head, you’d be surprised at how quickly you can get back to sleep if you simply jot them down and forget about them until later. I’d use the notes function on my iPhone, but as you learned in the sleep chapter, that brief blast of blue light can disrupt your sleep cycle for hours, so paper and pen is best.
What I’ve just shared with you are my “biggest wins” when it comes to saving time and producing as much as possible in the least amount of time. If you are hungry for more, you may want to visit a few sites that I personally follow:
–Lifehacker: Tips, tricks, and downloads for getting things done. Warning: Don’t get sucked into reading all the content—just find topics of interest to you.
–GetLeverage: The blog of lifehacker Ari Meisel, who was a guest on my podcast episode “How to Biohack Your Workouts, Your Diet & Your Life to Get More Done in Less Time.”
–43 Folders: A website devoted to helping you find the time and focus to do your best creative work.
–Dumb Little Man: Tips for life, including suggestions relating to money, happiness, and relationships.
And of course, be sure to click here and grab your copy of the brand new audiobook version of Beyond Training, which includes this chapter and 24 others for you to educate yourself with while you swim, bike, run, clean the house, commute to work, or do anything else (other than mowing the lawn, of course). Enjoy.
Do you have questions, comments or feedback about my time-saving and personal productivity tips? Your own tips to add? Leave your thoughts below!
Also published on Medium.